Backstage with our Director of Sales and Marketing
Meet Matthew Hodge
Performing the music on stage is only half the job – behind the scenes there are incredible people who make a concert what it is.
Meet Matthew Hodge – self-confessed music nerd, fearless leader of the Sales and Marketing team and lover of 90s video games. We caught up with Matt to talk how he joined the world of classical music, programming our Cinematic concert and playing piano.
Tell us about your role at Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
I’m privileged to run two teams. The first is the Sales team, who are the front-facing team that interact with all of our customers and subscribers. All of them are passionately committed to the customer experience, and are a crucial part of the customer journey that begins with buying tickets and will ultimately end up in the concert hall.
Then there is the Marketing team, who are tasked with the job of not just selling tickets and growing audiences, but also communicating with the world about our Orchestra. Through social media, blog posts, video, PR opportunities and much more, we are continually talking about our amazing musicians, the music they perform and the talented artists we collaborate with.
The best part about the role is that we are all collectively stronger than our individual parts. Every member of my team is 110% dedicated, but they all have different gifts and interests which allows us to pull together and do so much. I don’t ask about this in interviews, but I will say that the fact that several of them are astonishingly good at baking is an added bonus.
What was your journey in coming to know so much about classical music? And how does that play into being Director of Marketing?
I did have a slight advantage in that my father played piano when I was younger, and so I grew up with piano and chamber music. (He was less of a fan of orchestra music, however!) But in my 20s, I started listening to it more and hit a point where I realised that I wanted to work in the classical music industry. The challenge, however, was that I didn’t have an arts or music degree – my background is actually mathematics and statistics! So it was a challenge to even work out how to get into this business.
However, once I got a foot in the door, I felt like everyone else knew so much more about music than I did, that I started quietly listening to lots of the famous (and eventually not-so-famous) repertoire to become familiar with all the music that everyone else seemed to know. It took a while, but 15 years later, I’ve found that I know a lot more music than I thought I did. It’s tremendously helpful to have my own familiarity with the music that we’re trying to sell, both in helping to sell it to audiences but also being able to talk with musicians.
Finally, coming from the background of being an “enthusiastic amateur” is a strength I continually draw on, because it means I’m never too far away from the headspace of the audience. I remember what it was like to only know a handful of famous pieces and to find that the others all sounded the same! I remember the information and explanations that were helpful to open up my listening experience. So, all that helps me in opening up new ways of talking about the orchestra experience to people who might perhaps be curious but a little daunted by the experience.
Why do you believe classical music is for everyone?
There are many answers I could give to this one, but I think it’s simply that each type of music in the world gives you a different type of sound-world to live in. There’s music for chilling out, there’s music for exercising, there’s music for making ourselves happy. But I find that when it comes to trying to express things such as aching beauty, transcendence, and spirituality, it can be hard to find something to compete with classical music.
The story that sums this up for me is when I was in my early 20s (before I worked in the business) and I first encountered the Mahler Symphony No.2, the “Resurrection” symphony. For those who have never heard it, it’s 75 minutes long and begins with some of the most devastating music ever created sweeping through to a finale with a choir and orchestra that is one of the most staggeringly huge finales ever created. The year when I heard this was in 2002, and the world was still reeling from September 11. In many ways, I couldn’t separate the destruction of that opening music from the destruction of the twin towers.
Thus the finale, with its musical depiction of resurrection, was in many ways, a healing thing. It provided hope for the future. I remember thinking to myself, if there is ever a day where people can’t hear that live, we’ll have lost something in society. From then on, my one fixation (which hasn’t really abated) was working out how to get more people to experience this music for themselves.
Do you play any instruments? Do you have a favourite one you love to hear on stage?
I played piano as a teenager but then gave it up for many years. (Though surprisingly in isolation, I have taken the piano up again.) Perhaps it’s because of that piano background, but I do find that one of the most immediately elegant and beautiful sounds is piano and orchestra together, so I love a good piano concerto. I’m also partial to a good French horn or cello solo (but maybe we won’t tell the Orchestra that, in case they think I’m playing favourites).
Who’s your favourite composer?
While Mahler was the one that took my breath away, over time it’s most definitely become Beethoven. The reason for that is that the more Beethoven you listen to, the more incredible it becomes. You know how if you listen to all the Beatles albums, you can trace their progression from sounding like regular pop bands of the day to having their own unmistakable sound? Well, Beethoven does the same thing. Piece by piece, over the course of his life, he was changing music from what it was into something that only he could imagine in his head.
Plus, Beethoven is a composer that successfully manages to bridge the popular/expert divide. You can be completely new to classical music and still enjoy the energy and beauty of the great Beethoven pieces. But you could also be a music scholar or professional musician who has studied music for years, and find all sorts of amazing bits of cleverness in the way he constructs his music.
What’s been your favourite QSO concert to date?
I have to list two, because they exhibit the range of what this orchestra can do! The first is an absolutely perfect concert we did in 2019 with conductor Simone Young, where the Orchestra performed Schubert’s 9th Symphony (“the Great C Major”). Some people find that symphony a bit long and repetitive, but to me it’s like an elaborate steampunk device – full of whirring cogs and wheels. The Orchestra played it to perfection and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.
But then a few months later, the Orchestra performed a concert called Cinematic which was made up of blockbuster movie music. I’m a bit biased because I had a hand in programming the event, but it filled two packed-out halls, almost every musician wore a movie costume and the audience went home buzzing.
So two concerts of completely different music, both played to perfection. To me, that’s what makes QSO an Orchestra For Everyone.
When you’re not at work, where can we find you?
Well, I have four children, so a lot of the time I’m at home reading bedtime stories (with all the voices), putting small people to bed, introducing them to 90s computer games, helping shift guinea pig cages, and playing board games. If there’s any time left over after that, and it’s not Sunday morning at church, there’s usually a book or two on the go, and a long list of movies and TV to get through. Oh yeah, and listening to music.